Sunday, December 31, 2017


Jesus and I don't really have NYE traditions yet - we've done different things each year of our relationship. I guess that's our tradition: switching it up. This year we're celebrating with my parents, which means plenty of snacks, board games, fireworks on TV, and potentially falling asleep before midnight. :)

Extra: last year, the year before, and the year before that

Saturday, December 30, 2017

2017 By the Books

I read 196 books in 2017...thanks to library school and my job at a children's literature center (helloooo, picture books!). A Land of Permanent Goodbyes will be #197 if I finish it this weekend, but all stats are pre-completion. Here's a breakdown of what I read (using my Goodreads account as my source):

Total Number of Books Read: 196
Total Pages Read: 35,603
Shortest Book: Ghost Poems by Daisy Wallace (30 pages)
Longest Book: The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (637 pages)
Average Rating: 3.8 stars
Most Popular (according to Goodreads): The Help by Kathryn Stockett (read by over 2 million)
Least Popular (according to Goodreads): The Long Island by Drew Beckmeyer (it doesn't actually come out until 2018...)
Highest Rated (by Goodreads): Refugee by Alan Gratz (4.66 stars)
Highest Rated (by me): There were a lot of 5-star books this year, I'm happy to say!
Re-reads: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (very excited for the film adaptation), Hatchet by Gary Paulsen (doesn't quite hold up), Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein (definitely holds up), The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss (it's complicated)
Series I Finally Finished: The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud
Women Authors: 55% (108/196)
Authors of Color/Minority Authors: 40% (78/196)
Translations/Bilingual: After a very brief scroll through my list, I think about 12 of the books were either translated into English, included bilingual text, or were foreign language titles altogether. Several others were written by non-American writers in English.
Most Popular Author (according to my list): Margarita Engle (Forest World, Drum Dream Girl, Bravo!, and Miguel's Brave Knight). Jason Reynolds and Carole Boston Weatherford tied for second with three books each.
Audiobooks: 11, and I can pretty safely say that I am not a good listener...I much prefer reading text. If I have to listen, please let it be a comedy book (Yes Please was delightful) or a book featuring music (Solo and Echo had several musical moments).
Fantasy: 18
Horror: 3
Comedy: 9
Mystery: 10
Non-fiction: 53
Non-fiction for adults: 27
Biggest Surprise: All These Wonders (a collection of stories told on various Moth stages) gave me life. Miles Morales is hilarious and important. Out of Wonder is unbelievably beautiful. Greenglass House (and the follow-up, Ghosts of Greenglass House) is so. much. fun.
Biggest Letdown: On the whole, I was disappointed by self-help books this year (lesson learned, I guess?), but the biggest letdown was The Arrow Finds Its Mark (a collection of "found" poetry). It had extreme potential to be innovative and original, sure to be beloved by this found poet, but it lacked creativity and design.
Still Thinking About: the beauty of some of the picture books and graphic novels I read this year. It was an amazing year for illustrators! Also, lots of WOW moments in YA fiction, novelizations of comic books, and historical fiction with plenty of heart.
Something I Learned (about reading): Something I've known, but that was reaffirmed for me this year is that representation matters. I read a lot of "window" books this year (as opposed to "mirrors"), and I loved it. I can only imagine how affirming it is for non white/straight/English-speaking/etc kids and adults to see their lives in the books they read, and I'm excited to continue exploring a wide range of narratives from a wide range of authors.
Goal For 2018: Keep on keeping on.

Extra: 2016 By the Books

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Take Me Away: Seven Mystery & Adventure Titles to Capture Your Attention

The Case of the Time-Capsule Bandit (Randi Rhodes, Ninja Detective, #1)The Case of the Time-Capsule Bandit by Octavia Spencer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Randi Rhodes is exactly the girl detective I wanted to be growing up - I tore through Nancy Drew, Harriet the Spy, and other similar books in elementary school. Randi is tough and headstrong, but she has heart too. The tension of moving away from Brooklyn is compounded by the mystery of the time capsule, and there’s no break from the action as Randi meets D.C. and they team up to solve the mystery. Of course, as an adult, I wondered about the believability of some of their adventures, but nothing strayed too far from reality, and most kids will be too focused on trying to solve the mystery along with the protagonists to care about small details. I finished this book in an afternoon at the airport and felt fully immersed in the story!

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a fun read! I loved that it was bilingual, and that the translations matched up so well. The direct, simple language made it easy for even this beginning Spanish reader to compare the pages. The actual story was also fun, and I enjoyed solving the mystery along with Max, cheering for heroes and booing the villains all along. Max develops slightly as a character, becoming more confident in himself and the action was paced nicely. I’ll definitely be recommending this book!

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book gave me major Willy Wonka vibes, as Grabenstein intended, which had me guessing the whole way through - How will kids start being eliminated? What’s Lemoncello’s actual intent? Where are the Oompa Loompas? A fun ode to libraries with plenty of solvable puzzles, this bookworm was happy to read Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library all afternoon. I was invested and curious the whole way through!

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed reading Hatchet in elementary school. Growing up in north/central Wisconsin, winter survival was a popular topic and kids would build elaborate forts during recess as if we’d be out there longer than 20 minutes. We read Hatchet in class, and I remember both boys and girls getting into the story. When I tried to read more Gary Paulsen on my own though, I wasn’t as interested, and I definitely wasn’t as into the action this read through. Yes, Brian goes through a “coming of age” in the wilderness, learning about himself and the world around him, but I wasn’t as into the action as I remember being as a 10 year old. I think the plot was interesting, especially considering the age of this book, and most kids reading are able to guess at what Brian needs to do next, or at least think about what they would do in his situation.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was an interesting book to read one week after a trip to Japan. Preus did her research, though some details of the book felt forced (ie, “I did my research on this can’t you tell?!”). Manjiro’s adventure moves right along, and he grows and changes as he experiences new things. I felt invested in his story, wanting to know if he made it back home, and what happened if/when he did. There were a few problematic bits, details that were glossed over (though explained more in the epilogue/glossary), but nothing that a child reader would care much about, or need to appreciate the story. Preus is clear about the things she created for the story, and the inclusion of Majiro’s drawings adds context.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I listened to the audiobook version of this book, which I hesitate to recommend - the added music was a nice touch, but the actual narration left something to be desired. Also, I personally am not a great audiobook listener so I know I missed some things. I want to reread this in print to get the “full” story because I’m pretty sure I liked it. I know I liked each individual story, learning about the characters and their motivations. I didn’t read anything about the book before listening, so it took me a bit to realize Echo is 4 different/connected stories. The connections at the end were sweet, if convenient.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Besides the unnecessary gendering of this collection, I found the stories inside to be fun and interesting. As in any book of short stories, some resonated more than others, but altogether I found they worked well at keeping my attention with good pacing and just enough tension throughout. I felt involved in reading most of the stories, especially “Believing in Brooklyn” and “Nate Macavoy, Monster Hunter” (which felt like a Junior X-Files). Snakes aren’t my jam, so I checked out while reading “The Snake Mafia” and “Boys Will Be Boys” felt too simplistic (and that title, ugh).

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Winter Solstice Check-In

Winter Break is so close!

  • Finals: finished (one paper, two projects - one being a new page on this blog)
  • Presents: four left to wrap
  • Thank You Notes: we're down to co-workers & friends!
  • Travel Journal: one day left to recap
Of course, I've already sort of started the relaxing & celebrating...
Extras: last year's Winter Solstice thoughts (feeling similarly this year - cautiously grateful)

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Using Children's Fantasy to Talk About Family, Memory, and the Power of Knowledge: Two Reviews

The Girl Who Drank the MoonThe Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There is a lot going on in The Girl Who Drank the Moon, but it is beautifully written. While I had to reread a few passages to make sure I understood what was happening, I was engrossed in this story, its characters, and in learning the mystery of magic and the power of stories. The setting is familiar, though unique in its particularities. The themes of family and the power of memory and knowledge in this story repeat themselves, like refrains, and and are woven into each character’s actions, so that each page enforces the universal truths explored in the book as a whole.

Jinx (Jinx #1)Jinx by Sage Blackwood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sage Blackwood creates a magical world with dynamic characters in Jinx. While an intriguing conflict and plenty of mystery kept me reading, the fantasy itself was also compelling. Jinx is set in a fictional time and place, but aspects of the world are recognizable. The magic used along with other imaginative characteristics follow the “rules” of the world, lending credibility to the fantasy. Similarly to The Girl Who Drank the Moon, family, memory, and the power of knowledge are key themes, and the reader learns from both the mistakes and the victories of the characters. The setting of Jinx is similar to ones I’ve read elsewhere, but shows originality in its treatment of nature and the concept of a “Listener” along with not revealing all the details of the world (you have to keep reading the series to find out more!). I enjoyed trying to figure out each character’s motivations, and wondering who could be trusted as I read.

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Saturday, December 9, 2017

Finding Their Way Home: A Review of Refugee by Alan Gratz

RefugeeRefugee by Alan Gratz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Told in three separate yet connected stories, Refugee is a historical novel of perseverance and commitment to one’s identity in the face of persecution. It will resonate with middle grade readers of today.

Josef flees from 1930s Nazi Germany and the threat of concentration camps with his parents and sister. He struggles with the responsibility of taking care of his family when he still feels like a child.

Isabel, her parents, and her neighbors use a makeshift raft to escape Cuba in 1994, during the unrest of Castro’s regime. Though never one to retreat from a challenge, Isabel worries for her pregnant mother during the dangerous journey.

Mahmoud, along with his parents and younger siblings, leave the violence of war in Syria in 2015, traveling through Europe as they search for a safer place to live. Unsure of the future of his country, Mahmoud wonders if his family will feel at home if they make it to Austria.

Though the details of their stories are unique, Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud share more similarities than just their situations. Gratz gives attention to creating characters with heart and conviction, while the conflicts they face ensure none of their stories muddle in the emotions of the book as a whole. Refugee tells an important story without preaching or sensationalizing the experiences of refugees past and present. Maps and an author’s note highlight the reality of Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud’s stories and show the readers how they can help with relief efforts.

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Sunday, November 19, 2017


It's honeymoon time! I'm excited to get back to my blogging roots and discuss travel destinations and reviews...after I get back (and after I finish my finals!). :)

See you in two weeks!

Saturday, November 18, 2017


J: I love you tons and bunches.
R: A ton of bricks and bunches of bananas?
J: Yes, bricks and bananas.

Today is the day I marry my love & I couldn't be more excited. Or more prone to breaking out in happy tears.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

What's Past is Present: Nine Historical Fiction Books for Kids & Adults

My Heart is on the Ground: the Diary of Nannie Little Rose, a Sioux Girl, Carlisle Indian School, Pennsylvania, 1880 (Dear America)My Heart is on the Ground: the Diary of Nannie Little Rose, a Sioux Girl, Carlisle Indian School, Pennsylvania, 1880 by Ann Rinaldi
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I struggled with My Heart Is on the Ground, especially after reading the article about its inconsistencies. I remember reading almost all of the Dear America books growing up, so it’s possible that I read this one too, though I couldn’t tell you if it had any effect on me, or if I understood the extent of its inaccuracies. What drew me to this series as a child was the range of experiences of the various characters, and the diary format, which makes it more apparent that the book is fiction. While this story has aspects of reality - there were boarding schools meant for Native Americans in the late 1800s - there were far too many “artistic licenses” taken for anyone to recommend this book to children, at the very least without bold disclaimers.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Personal wars and victories set during an actual war highlight the variety of living situations during a time period, and The War that Saved My Life shares a powerful story of how World War II affected women and children in England particularly. The history of this book lives more in the background and edges, while Ada’s story takes center stage. This is a character novel that just so happens to be set in history. There are important historical details - the existence of child evacuees during WWII, blackout curtains and food rationing, a distrust of medical knowledge - but the growth of Ada as a character and the development of her and Jamie’s relationship with Susan are what this book is really about.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In The Madman of Piney Woods, the reader learns about generational similarities and differences between the children of Irish immigrants and enslaved people in Canada. The history of this book comes through on every page, in its characters and their conflicts. While I have no connection to either Benji or Red, I could still relate to the friendship of two seeming opposites, and to the power of shared experiences. Told in a he said/he said format, this book starts slow, but has a satisfying conclusion. Once Benji and Red meet, I enjoyed watching their friendship develop and anticipating how they would navigate their differences. An author’s note describes the motivation for telling this story, and lends credibility to the details.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Rita Williams-Garcia portrays the “why” of 1968 Oakland through the eyes of three sisters, and the eldest in particular in One Crazy Summer. In the context of a summer camp run by the Black Panthers, Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern explore their identities as black children in America, as sisters to each other, and as daughters to their poet mother. There was definitely research done to portray the girls accurately, as well as to include factual events and keep the style and tone reflective of the time period, Delphine’s background, and the setting of the story. Delphine, as our narrator, is matter-of-fact and quite descriptive of her own feelings as well as her interpretation of others’ feelings. I appreciated her no-nonsense style and could relate to her challenges of being an older sister while also recognizing her unique situation in history.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Told as a series of free verse poems, Brown Girl Dreaming is an autobiographical account of Jacqueline Woodson’s childhood and how she found her identity as a writer. Creative liberties and poetic style aside, this novel leans more towards personal history within the larger context of growing up in both South Carolina and Brooklyn in the 1960s and 70s. We see Woodson struggle with the feeling of not belonging anywhere in relation to her family’s struggles to adapt to different ways of life as political and social changes occur. There is a dreamlike quality to the poetry of this novel, and it was a joy to read about another writer’s journey to herself.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jimmy McClean and his grandfather follow Crazy Horse’s path and we hear of his deeds as Jimmy learns to love who he is and what it means to be Lakota in In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse. Maps, a glossary, and a bibliography help to ground this story in fact, and this book felt more educational and historical than others we read. There is less dramatic character development, besides Jimmy eventually coming to terms with how he looks, and the fiction itself is set in present day, though it is geographically and politically accurate for the story.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I listened to the audiobook version of 90 Miles to Havana, read by the author, and appreciated hearing the names and dialogue straight from the source. The events that occur in Julian’s life are similar to Flores-Galbis’s experience of Operacion Pedro Pan, and are therefore credible and relatable. Themes of identity, family, and revolution weave in and out of the narrative and color each interaction. It was easy to feel the emotions of the story and to cheer for the characters.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dead End in Norvelt is also an audiobook read by the author, inspired by his childhood. It’s historical in that the events of the story happened in the past, and are affected by the real life events of the time, but the story itself focuses more on the characters and the mystery of their fellow neighbors passing away at an accelerated rate. Some of Jack’s adventures remind me of stories my dad likes to tell of growing up in a small town, especially when he gets in trouble or is in some sort of danger and he shrugs it off.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s difficult for me to evaluate verse novels because they tend to be my favorite, but Inside Out & Back Again was both sad and hopeful, and remained true to both the poetic style and the historic settings of Saigon and Alabama. These poems are about acceptance, belonging, and identity, and share universal truths even in their specific details. While the details are about the fallout of the Vietnam War for one family, and Ha in particular, any reader who has felt out of place or not “something” enough to fit in will relate to this novel.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

A River of Words

A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos WilliamsA River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams by Jennifer Fisher Bryant
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When we think of doctors, we usually don’t think of poetry, and vice versa: poetry doesn’t typically conjure up images of doctors. We also don’t associate “ordinary” with poetry, and yet, that’s just William Carlos Williams’s style. A River of Words, a biographical picture book, aims to show how William Carlos Williams was able to combine poetry with his medical career, providing for his family and caring for his community while also taking care of his need for solitude and writing about the everyday.

Both author Jen Bryant and illustrator Melissa Sweet show readers how to find poetry everywhere by letting it inform the details of the book. Using poetic verse to combine fact with art, Bryant tells Williams’s story of discovering the power of words, and of the extraordinary poetry of the everyday. Sweet’s mixed media collage illustrations add to the charm of this book, combining newspaper, notebook writing, and simple drawings to create a poetic scrapbook echoing the words on each page. A timeline, bibliography, and notes at the end round out this informational title. Young writers and artists alike will enjoy seeing Williams’s life unfold and his writing and medical career progress as they read.

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Saturday, October 28, 2017

Verse: 10 Children's Poetry Collections

Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reverso PoemsMirror Mirror: A Book of Reverso Poems by Marilyn Singer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mirror Mirror was a fast favorite for me, combining fairy tale retellings with reversible verse. Not all of the poems work 100% in this format, but when they do, they really do. Marilyn Singer turns well known fairy tales “upside down,” telling two sides of the same story. The “About” page at the end of the collection explains how to read each poem, and clues the reader in to the puzzles on each page. I’m sure this is a book for children, but I enjoyed & reread it so I could show others. Since the format is rather strict, the language of the poems is simple - they are easily understood, yet the concept and actual syntax of the lines are complex. The illustrations enhance the poems, helping readers to visualize each side of the story.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The poems featured in The Blacker the Berry “celebrate these many shades of black” with both lyrical words and vibrant illustrations. Joyce Carol Thomas is an expert in her field, and does the poems justice with rich imagery. The larger type, simple sentence structure, and full page illustrations make this collection accessible to younger readers, while adults (parents or teachers or storytellers) can also appreciate the deeper meanings of the poems as a whole. The scope of this collection is focused, and thrives in that focus. Each poem is written from the child’s point-of-view, and uses the imagery of berries and other breakfast-y items (coffee, biscuits) to strengthen the theme. Each illustration is unique to its accompanying poem, yet stays true to the style. The final illustration is powerful.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dark Emperor is a poetry/nonfiction combination, where each poem’s subject is also explained scientifically on the opposite page, along with intricate relief prints. This is definitely a read aloud/together, and could be used in a classroom or for any child with an interest in woodland creatures - the illustrations, poems, and information give it several access points. Since the poems are “of the night,” they are written in dreamlike language, with lots of alliteration, repetition, and personification. The layered illustrations enrich the poetry, adding depth to the subjects.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Firefly July is a favorite poetry collection, for several reasons. First, its purpose: showing that all you need is a few short, yet intentional, lines to create a poem. Children are the intended audience based on the length of the poems, the simple concept of seasons, and the artwork, but the poems themselves weren’t necessarily written with children in mind, which makes them stand out even more, and highlights the fact that poetry can be accessible to all ages. The scope is wide in authors represented, but the seasonal theme keeps them focused and organized, so they connect to each other. I do wish there were author biographies beyond the acknowledgments. Because the poems have been collected, their language is varied, yet each one still fits neatly on the page. Finally, I also really enjoyed the illustrations and how they played with the poetry, drawing attention to certain details.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A year in poems, though focused in its perspective, is My Chinatown. This collection follows the year in the life of a child in a specific place, but could be appreciated by anyone in a new city or neighborhood. It’s scope is limited based on its subject and solo author. The poems have a conversational tone and are paired with beautiful realistic illustrations.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Aiming to show the universality of childhood, the 34 poems of Bronzeville Boys and Girls each feature the experiences and emotions of a different neighborhood child. Children reading this collection will appreciate finding themselves in the characters, while adults can reminisce about their own childhoods. Gwendolyn Brooks creates entire worlds in just a few lines, and it’s easy to picture the events of the poems. Faith Ringgold’s bold lines and colors add to the overall feel of the collection.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Older children (ages 8-12) are the intended audience for The Flag of Childhood, and that is apparent before reading - the book is smaller, with no illustrations. This collection hopes to instill a sense of empathy in the reader, an understanding of the universality of childhood, and of the power of words. While it’s meant for children, clearly there are some adults who could learn a thing or two from the poems inside. With over 50 poets represented, the scope is quite large, and the poetry varies in length and style. I appreciated that the poems are not “baby” versions of adult poems - they are full-fledged poems, on the subject of childhood.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Yes! We are Latinos combines poetry from different representations of Latinos with historical and sociopolitical background information. This collection aims to show the diversity among Latinos and invites readers to think about their own histories. Distinctions are made to show that “Latino” is a very broad description, and this collection does a fine job of shifting from detailed poetry to general nonfiction information. Alma Flor Ada is an award-winning children’s author, and her notes and bibliographic information highlight her expertise. While some children and/or families might appreciate this collection on its own, I’d pair it with other literature (poetry or not), and could see this being used in a classroom or storytelling setting where one poem/nonfiction topic is explored in more depth. The organization of the poems by these topics lends itself to reading them independent of each other. Many people were sourced for the composite children featured in each poem. The poems themselves have a prose-like quality, as all are voiced from the first person point-of-view.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Shel Silverstein’s poems and drawings are humorous, and meant to entertain. These poems were written to be read aloud, and I remember hearing a few of them during storytime. While children are clearly the intended audience, adults can also appreciate the humor and playfulness of the poetry, and are most likely to be the ones actually reading. The poems in Where the Sidewalk Ends all share the same author, but their forms vary, from rhyming couplets and singsong verses to shape poetry and free verse - though most of the poems do rhyme. The poems are arranged so that each one is of varying length, while also taking into account the illustrations, which are sometimes decorative, but also add meaning or context to the poems.

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I was ready to love the found poems of The Arrow Finds Its Mark, since found poetry is my jam, and I believe in the poetry of the everyday. The introduction itself was enjoyable to read, and inspiring to any young poets. The poems, too, were fine. I had hoped the authors would show their work - a la Austin Kleon and his blackout poetry (, or like Matthew James Kay’s literary collages ( The process of poetry is such an integral part of the enjoyment, much like source notes in traditional literature, and knowing how a poet goes from raw material to poem makes it even more meaningful. That being said, the organization of this collection was expert, with each poem linking to the next.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Five Collections of Traditional Tales

Trickster: Native American Tales, A Graphic CollectionTrickster: Native American Tales, A Graphic Collection by Matt Dembicki
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

At the end of Trickster, Dembicki’s note explains the why of this collection - to fill a void and create something completely new. Trickster tales as comics are different from how I’ve seen them presented, but the form lends itself well to the telling. While Dembicki himself is white, his "authority" comes as a comic book creator. He states that he worked to find Native American storytellers willing to share their stories, along with artists of their choosing. Each contributor has their own background notes, and general trickster information is given on the back cover copy. This book was written for children and adults, and could be enjoyed as a read aloud/read together as seeing the artwork is half the reading process. There are 21 tales, all varied in content and artistic style, which makes the organization seem more random. The illustrations themselves range from cartoonish to realistic, some enhancing their tale and others not as much.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I found The Juniper Tree and Other Tales to be a difficult collection to get into, though I did enjoy the stories I’m more familiar with. This collection, according to the book jacket, intends to restore the selected tales with faithful translations, and they definitely aren’t watered down. The tales are intense, and the narrative style fits the tradition of oral storytelling.Though only 27 out of 210 stories are represented in this collection, they are spread out between two volumes and range from well-known to often forgotten. It seems as though these stories are meant to be read independently of each other, and read aloud by an adult to a child (or just as an adult).There is one illustration for each story; they aren’t particularly integral, though they do set up the scene for the story.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like many folktale collections, The People Could Fly was written to record and preserve oral tales. This is explained in the introduction, along with the way the book is organized (by theme). These four themes group together like stories (about six per theme, for a total of 24 stories) in a way that someone could request one about animals or a supernatural one for storytime. Hamilton also includes source notes in the introduction, going into more detail at the conclusion of each tale. She makes it clear she wants to keep the style, while also telling the tales in her own voice. The stories themselves are intended for the adult storyteller, with illustrations every few pages to enhance the stories.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Both entertaining and educational, Tales Our Abuelitas Told is just as the title states - both authors share stories they grew up with, including source notes, background information, and their personal relationships to the tales. These stories are traditional, each originating from a different location, though some have been revised or are composite tales, mixing similar stories told in several countries. This collection was my favorite of the four I read for class, and the narrative style really lends itself to storytime. Though there are only 12 tales collected, their themes and content vary so that each one can be told independently. The illustrations are colorful, highlighting details of each story.

Mysterious Tales of JapanMysterious Tales of Japan by Rafe Martin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This collection, which I read in addition to the above, is meant to embrace the “fleeting yet haunting beauty we know from life,” and is filled with spiritual tales - ghostly, eerie, and refreshing. Martin invites readers to “walk in the moonlight of imagination” as they read stories from the Zen, Buddhist, and Shinto traditions. Most stories were originally collected in the early 1900s, though Martin infuses them with his own style, and each story concludes with a note on its origin. Jesus and I read one of these each night (or rather, I read to him) until we finished the collection, and experiencing the tales at that pace was perfect for cool fall nights.

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Saturday, October 14, 2017

Questioning Library Neutrality

Questioning Library Neutrality: Essays from Progressive LibrarianQuestioning Library Neutrality: Essays from Progressive Librarian by Alison Lewis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Are librarians neutral? Should they be?

Some essays in this collection were more useful/educational/entertaining than others. I wouldn't call it a cover-to-cover read, but I think many teachers and librarians could use certain essays to highlight issues in their own classrooms/libraries.

My conclusions after reading/skimming: neutrality is a myth, and even if libraries themselves could pull it off (they can't), librarians definitely aren't neutral. And that can be a good thing.

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Further thoughts on neutrality here, here, and here.

"Neutrality doesn’t encourage our critical thinking; it doesn’t ask us to question facts that are wrong, or behaviors that are prejudiced. By this measure, neutrality doesn’t necessarily reveal injustice but further entrenches it, which is ironic." - Stacie Williams

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Michael Rosen's Sad Book

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Not all parents have to deal with the grief of losing a child, but for those who do, the right book can serve as an outlet and reprieve for sadness. Likewise, children who have lost loved ones also need books to speak to their experiences. Adults and children who want a way to talk about grief will appreciate Michael Rosen’s Sad Book: autobiographical, yet universal, it follows Rosen’s journey to grieve his son and helps readers approach difficult subjects with understanding and tenderness.

Written in a conversational tone, this book punctuates descriptions of how grief feels with repeated questions: “Where is sad?” “When is sad” “Who is sad?” The reader is invited to empathize with Rosen, who is depicted in pen and watercolor illustrations on each page, navigating his sadness. Readers will recognize aspects of profound sadness in both the refrain of “Sometimes…” and in the rough lines and muted colors of the illustrations.

Michael Rosen’s Sad Book may not be a cherished bedtime story, or even one that every parent will want to share with their children, but it is a necessary story. It neither trivializes nor dramatizes depression, but instead shares honestly. Rosen’s telling creates a space for other parents to share their stories, and to feel less alone in their grief. It gives words to parents and children who may not know how to communicate what their sadness feels like, no matter what the cause of that sadness is. 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Taco Queens and Epic Fails

Stef Soto, Taco QueenStef Soto, Taco Queen by Jennifer    Torres
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Stef Soto wants what most pre-teens want: for her parents to be normal, and for her classmates to accept her. (Tickets to the Vivianna Vega concert would be nice too.)

First thoughts: Stef is a super relatable character, especially for me. She knows that a family business is truly a family business, and when she does homework in her dad's taco truck (affectionately named "Tia Perla"), it reminded me of spending my after school hours at my mom's store. We usually got candy bars from the drugstore down the street instead of fresh tacos, but close enough. She's also an admirable character, but not without faults.

More similarities: When Stef equates art class with autonomy, I immediately thought of my childhood love of reading and writing. Torres truly seems to understand the pre-teen need for a unique identity, and it shows in her well-rounded characters and believable dialogue. Spanish conversations feel natural, not forced, and the dynamics of Stef's immigrant family are authentic as well.

Recommended for: I think most of us would enjoy an afternoon or two with Stef Soto. I'd recommend this to all of my previous students, kids who are still kids but have adult worries, and anyone with interests in municipal policy and how it affects families.

Final thoughts: All ends well in the world of Stef Soto, Taco Queen, but not without struggles, tough conversations, and real life fears. I appreciated the quick, yet thoughtful, pacing of the story - the conflict isn't wrapped up neatly in a few pages, but takes time to develop and resolve. There are important lessons to be learned here, about family, hard work, the "American Dream," and growing up.

The Epic Fail of Arturo ZamoraThe Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Arturo Zamora is excited for his summer, even the dish-washing part, but a smooth talking land developer threatens his fun and his family's business. Can he save the day?

First thoughts: I read The Epic Fail right after Stef Soto, Taco Queen, and definitely felt the similarities (food & family as main themes, young Latino protagonists who must draw on their inner strengths to overcome a challenge and save something important to them...). One more similarity? I enjoyed it just as much.

Authenticity: My biggest gripe with children's fiction is its believably, and I'd say the plot, characters, and setting of TEFOAZ are all believable. Cartaya writes dialogue I could totally picture my students saying. Yes, the plot is spectacular, but again, Arturo struggles with the main conflict and works to solve it in ways that a pre-teen with his resources could do.

Recommended for: My middle schoolers, any school-aged kid living in Logan Square or one of the other many neighborhoods undergoing gentrification, people looking for an underdog to root for, fans of Stef (of Stef Soto, Taco Queen) or Junior (of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian).

Final thoughts: A fun and fast read. Plenty of heart, plenty of culture, a hero to cheer for, and a villain you can't wait to see fail.

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Monday, September 25, 2017

Banned Books Week

Happy Banned Books Week!

Let's talk about reading and censorship of kids' books. More specifically, let's talk about trying not to censor the books that kids are reading. If kids are reading, they're learning. They're learning words, sentence structure, and paragraph composition. They're learning about plot and conflict, exposition and resolution. When they get invested in the story and the characters, they're learning about empathy, inclusion, stamina, and problem solving. Most importantly, they're learning about themselves.

Plus, as soon as a book is challenged, its popularity with kids and teens skyrockets. Want a 12-year old to read something? Tell them it's off limits. If book bans and challenges were really about protecting children, they wouldn't put the offending book in the spotlight.

Yes, words and books can be powerful, but let's not turn them into representations of evil. If we as adults can read and view things that we don't agree with, coming up with our own opinions of what we consume, why can't kids learn to do the same? Parents, teachers, and librarians should show kids how to read things that are challenging and teach them to shape their own worldviews in relation to what they read. When kids learn about difficult subjects in books and with the guidance of a trusted adult, they can wrestle with conflicting thoughts intentionally, instead of on their own and on the fly.

More about why kids should read banned books and why illustrated books are challenged so frequently.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

A Closer Look at Librarianship

The Heart of Librarianship: Attentive, Positive, and Purposeful ChangeThe Heart of Librarianship: Attentive, Positive, and Purposeful Change by Michael Stephens
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A great companion to class discussions and readings, giving me plenty to think about as I continue my journey to librarianship.

First thoughts: Several times parts of the book echoed class discussions, especially about the evolution of librarianship. There is lots of mention of leadership and management, plus how to work with technology - all classes I still have coming up - so I was particularly excited to read about those topics.

Favorite quotes:

"No amount of training or professional development can move us forward if an individual is uninterested in learning or growing. I'd argue for two vital traits that will serve librarians well throughout their careers. Longtime librarians, mid-career folks, new hires, and students, I'm talking to you! The traits are simple yet pack a powerful punch: curiosity and creativity."

"Beginning this learner's journey in library school should be a given....'Follow your curiosity' is my answer when students ask me what emerging ideas and tech they should focus on. This emphasis on learning will carry our graduates forward into their positions." (This made my heart soar as a subscriber to the Follow Your Curiosity life motto.)

Career thoughts: As someone who's never quite known what she's wanted to "be" when she grows up, so far librarianship has offered me the most. Part social worker, part teacher, part book reviewer - these are all the things I've already committed my life to. Life is wild and wonderful sometimes.

Recommended for: library students, library teachers, librarians at all stages of their careers.

Final thoughts: I'm so glad I picked this book up before the start of my fall semester. It was the perfect motivator for jumping back in to classes and keeping my focus on the purpose of all this reading, discussing, writing, and learning.

The New Librarianship Field GuideThe New Librarianship Field Guide by R. David Lankes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First thoughts: This book reaffirmed things I've learned already in library school, and reminded me of other concepts I'm excited to learn more about.

Favorite quotes:

"Let's face it, if you're reading this, you are either are or want to be a librarian." (guilty)

"The mission of librarians is to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities."

Career thoughts: Librarians are in the knowledge business, not the information business, and knowledge is a conversation. A conversation leading to creation, which is the purest form of creativity I can think of. I'd love to be a part of those conversations in the future.

Recommended for: library students, library teachers, librarians at all stages of their careers.

Final thoughts: One of the best points this book made for me was in the admittance of mistakes librarians of the past made (and those present librarians make, and the ones librarians of the future will make) - Lankes says we honor these librarians by questioning and improving their systems. It does no good to pretend libraries were always beacons of democracy, or to assume that all librarians always have the best interests of their communities in mind when making decisions, but if enough librarians and library members take the time to understand why decisions were made, and when it's time to change things up, libraries will continue to stand for equality and access for everyone.

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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Saturday, September 16, 2017


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The story of Blade Morrison, newly graduated son of a rock star who wants to know where he fits both in his family and in life, told in poetic verse.

First thoughts: I both read the print version of Solo along with listening to the audiobook - and I highly recommended listening. This is a musical story - the playful language deserves to be heard. It's always a treat to hear the author read their own works, and Kwame Alexander doesn't disappoint. Novels told in poetic verse are always going to be some of my favorites.

Favorite quotes:

"It is a good feeling
not to be recognized
and still noticed."

"It's as awkward
as things can get.
But I hear grace
can feel
that way
at first."

Bonus!: The audiobook version comes with recordings of the original songs Blade writes, performed by Randy Preston. I loved the originality of this detail, and how it really cracks open what a "book" can be. Why wouldn't a story about a young musician growing up in Hollywood include his songs as well?

Recommended for: high school seniors (or juniors or sophomores or even freshmen) and their parents, people who feel like outsiders in their own families, music lovers, world travelers, readers of celebrity gossip, and rockers young and old.

Final thoughts: Solo is sweet, yet it hits hard when it needs to. The audiobook is both powerful and fun.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Librarian Blueprints: Two Book Reviews

This Is What a Librarian Looks Like: A Celebration of Libraries, Communities, and Access to InformationThis Is What a Librarian Looks Like: A Celebration of Libraries, Communities, and Access to Information by Kyle Cassidy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Photos of librarians past, present, and future, paired with their thoughts on what it means to be a librarian.

First thoughts: This was a very inspiring read for the beginning of a new semester of library school! The longer essays by librarians and the people who love librarians (Hello, Neil Gaiman!) were interesting as well.

Recommended for: library lovers, library students, and library skeptics.

Final thoughts: A fun, informative, and timely look at all the ways there are to be a librarian. This would make a great coffee table or lobby book - easy to dip in and out of, with wonderful photo spreads.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A practical guide for librarians looking to step up their game in various areas.

First thoughts: This read like an insider's guide, or a playbook for more established librarians who need to freshen up their skills. It had practical advice and info, but as a library student it wasn't anything new that's not already being taught in my current classes.

Recommended for: Any librarian looking to shake things up a bit, or re-motivate themselves after getting stuck in a routine, library directors and managers hoping to keep their staff in top librarian shape.

Final thoughts: Less learning about becoming a library than improving current librarianship - it's possible I revisit this (or an updated edition) in the future, but not a whole lot I could take action on in my current position.

Saturday, September 2, 2017


S.S. by J.J. Abrams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A story in the margins of a story about another story...S. is beautiful, intricate, and, sometimes confusing, but a joy to read as a librarian-in-training.

First thoughts: It's so hard to just read the book, without reading all the margin notes left by previous readers Jen and Eric or getting lost in the lore surrounding the whole thing. With J.J. Abrams involved, of course there are layers upon layers of story.

How do I read this book?!: I don't think there is any right or wrong way to read S. Read it all, all at once, or try to go layer by layer - either way you'll still have to piece things together. Don't forget about all the inserts! (My copy didn't have them included, since it was from the library, but I found a website that described them all.) Personally, I started reading EVERYTHING on each page, but felt like certain events were being spoiled before I had context for them, so then I split the book up into about 4 different readings. First, the actual typed pages of The Ship of Theseus, the story of a man searching for his identity. Then I went back to read each set of notes left by "Eric" and "Jen," focusing on the different sets of pen/pencil colors they used to read semi-chronologically.

Wait, what?: Yes, I was confused pretty much the whole way through...this blog helped me a lot! I had little to zero idea what the "real" story of The Ship of Theseus was until I read Eric and Jen's notes, and their notes I needed outside context to fully grasp. Whew!

Favorite quotes:

"We create stories to help us shape a chaotic world ,to navigate inequities of power, to accept our lack of control over nature, over others, over ourselves."

"Really: we imagine ourselves to be so well-contained, so clearly defined, so individually integrious yet it takes so little to open us up, to send us spilling outward or to introduce something foreign and toxic."

Character thoughts: Eric's first (penciled) notes remind me of me taking notes - some personal, lots of similar themes pointed out, mildly embarrassing to read back after several years... A lot of Jen's notes were relatable too, in her conversations with Eric, along with her library science leanings and her romantic side.

Writing thoughts: This book must have been so much fun to write. Fun and frustrating - adding in notes to a story you've written, being able to make sure your reader takes note of what you want them to, but also having to keep all the narratives straight!

Recommended for: Durst and Abrams write for people who love a puzzle, anyone who analyzes all parts of their life, and those who need a deep dive escape into reading. Librarians and librarian types will appreciate the game of reading and figuring out the book, as will anyone involved in other ARG-type experiences.

Final thoughts: S. is a book that sticks with you. The concept is better than the actual story, I think, and really truly works because of the margin notes, but I always welcome novelty in my reading. It's refreshing to know there are always different ways to write and consume books!

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Saturday, August 26, 2017


Legend (Legend, #1)Legend by Marie Lu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In a post-USA world, two teenagers find that what makes them enemies also makes them natural allies.

First thoughts: An interesting concept, one that is worth exploring and developing more - hence why Legend is part of a trilogy. Including more of the central conflict earlier in the story would have helped convince me to keep reading, though. I'm not sure I care enough yet to want to continue the story, even though I think the "good stuff" is still coming.

YA thoughts: I love me a good YA read. Exploring current conflicts in a future/dystopian/alternate reality makes for fun reading. I'll suspend my disbelief for a lot of things - a country's history that no one remembers (oh wait... #2017problems), technology that gives minors all the advantages of a mastermind criminal, military-style trials forced on populations...but you lose me at underdeveloped characters and rushed romances. Teenagers/young adults reading: call me out if you're into the premature feelings and I'm being a Scrooge, but I was 13 once and I don't remember needing my protagonists to fall in love. On the other hand, the action scenes are well written - those shone for me while the love scenes fell flat. With more action and a quicker arrival at the crux of the conflict, I'd already be done with the second book.

Recommended for: Legend has become a pretty well known dystopian YA novel, so it's appropriate for a person hoping to become a youth librarian to become familiar with it. Unless you fit that description, or you've exhausted all other YA resources, I'm sure there are others books you could get lost in.

Final thoughts: This was probably a bigger hit in 2011. In 2017, it needs more.

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Saturday, August 19, 2017

Librarian Memoirs

Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison LibrarianRunning the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian by Avi Steinberg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An obituary writer needing a life change shares the story of his professional and personal development during his time as a prison librarian.

First thoughts: I got Orange is the New Black vibes from this. And lots of reminders of my time as both a social worker and teacher - the coded language, use of names (first name vs ms last name), being friends vs acquaintances. There's a similarity in boundary setting, even if the environments are (hopefully) different. I also thought a lot about how Steinberg reacted to certain things versus how a woman in his situation might (or if a woman would even be put in similar situations).

Favorite quotes:

"But the library was different: it was a place, a dynamic social setting where groups gathered, where people were put into relation with others. A space an individual could physically explore on his own." (There is freedom in libraries.)

"True librarians are unsentimental. They're pragmatic, concerned with the newest, cleanest, most popular books. Archivists, on the other hand, are only peripherally interested in what other people like, and much prefer the rare to the useful." (Uh oh, am I an archivist?)

Recommended for: I think a lot of people could benefit from reading this, but people who are already interested in libraries, librarians, and the prison industry will enjoy Steinberg's stories.

Final thoughts: Made me think. About what I could and could not do in Steinberg's position. About the point of prisons. About the point of libraries. About the absurd beauty of prison libraries. About programs like Chicago Books to Women in Prison.

The World's Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette's, Faith, Strength, and the Power of FamilyThe World's Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette's, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family by Josh Hanagarne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hanagarne discusses his childhood and how he came to be a librarian, with entertaining bits from the library world.

First thoughts: This book was gripping, yet light. I found myself enjoying the present day story more than childhood flashbacks. I appreciated the Library of Congress subject headings as themes for each chapter.

Favorite quotes:

"As a breed, we're the ultimate generalists. I'll never know everything about anything, but I'll know something about almost everything and that's how I like to live." (Me too.)

"Test everything that can be tested. As soon as you think you know something, that's when you stop questioning it. Understanding kills curiosity." -Adam Glass

Recommended for: book people, Jacks & Jills of all trades, anyone with a passing interest in Mormonism, Tourette's, or librarianship.

Final thoughts: I was a little annoyed at him asking for an application and getting a job.! But overall, good thoughts on what it means to be faithful or brave or strong or a librarian.

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Saturday, August 12, 2017

Double Bind

Double Bind: Women on AmbitionDouble Bind: Women on Ambition by Robin Romm
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Essays on ambition from women in all walks of life - if you have emotions about ambition, there's an essay for you here.

First thoughts: This book gave me some feelings, or at least it brought out feelings I'd already had. Am I ambitious? Do I care about ambition?

Favorite quotes:

"There are infinite facets." -Robin Romm (There are so many ways to be a woman, to view ambition...and we're still surprised that we're not all the same.)

"I and mine are not lean-in women. Mine is a long and illustrious heritage of elegant survivalists and creative realists." -Ayana Mathis

"That's enough being scared, they'd say. We didn't do all of this struggling so you could just give up. Get up now. Take a step. Then another. Then another, like we did." -Ayana Mathis

"What I want - interesting problems, inspiring people, chances to steer old conversations in new directions - is happening all around me, all the time." -Evany Thomas

"I get that my foremothers and sisters fought long and hard so that my relationship to ambition could be so...careless. I get that some foremothers and sisters might read me as ungrateful because I don't want to fight their battles, because I don't want to claw my way anywhere." -Elisa Albert

"Taking care of myself and my loved ones feels like meaningful work to me, see? I care about care. And I don't care if I'm socialized to feel this way, because in fact I do feel this way." -Elisa Albert

"I write to make sense of things, to make order from chaos, to make something from nothing." -Elisa Albert

Recommended for: women, men, ambitious types, passionate folks, cautious and creative individuals, anyone interested in humans.

Final thoughts: Why do women in particular have such strange relationships with ambition? What does that elusive word even mean? This book asks more questions than it answers, and asks them specifically to the reader, showing how personal ambition really is.

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Saturday, August 5, 2017

Letter to a Future Lover

Letter to a Future Lover: Marginalia, Errata, Secrets, Inscriptions, and Other Ephemera Found in LibrariesLetter to a Future Lover: Marginalia, Errata, Secrets, Inscriptions, and Other Ephemera Found in Libraries by Ander Monson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Collected essays inspired by the things left in library books - this is the type of book I'm always drawn to, the type that I could see myself writing, and yet Monson's take was worlds different from what I expected.

First thoughts: There are moments of genius in these essays. Other times, I'm confused. I know they weren't originally bound and ordered this way, so I wonder if there's an order to the essays that would reveal a different narrative. I found some of the topics extremely interesting with my 1.5 class library school background.

Favorite quotes:
"Each book in which you lose yourself equals ten thousand you will not have time to read." (bittersweet!)

"Own the ways we break, it seems to say: understand that the fault lines of a mind or body are individual, and honor them."

"We often move through books more quickly than is wise." (guilty)

"Everything we've written, what we've read, what we've collected, what we've bookmarked on what pages, what notes we left pressed herein, what we have included, discarded, defaced, lost and then replaced, how it's filed and organized: it's all a carrier, a vector, an edifice of us."

Recommended for: librarian wannabes, love letter leavers, organizers, memory keepers, collectors, and romantics.

Final thoughts: Hmm. An interesting book to dip into, and a solid short-but-slow read, if that's what you're feeling.

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